FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In Praise of Incivility in Politics

“The wranglers over creeds and dogmas are perhaps the most persistent of all agitators; the bedrock idea being that a wrong exists which must be found and exterminated.”
— Eugene Debs

“Get it straight, I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.”
–Mother Jones

I’m going to take issue here with the mainstream media commentariat (and even some on the left) about the issue of “civil discourse.”

There are two main arguments being made, and both are wrong.

One is that our politic process is being damaged by violent and intemperate rhetoric, and the other is that this violence is coming from both the right and the left.

On the first point, there is a big difference between violent rhetoric and intemperate rhetoric. Violent rhetoric is where a speaker actually tries to incite her or his listeners to violent action. Intemperate rhetoric is simply rhetoric that is not temperate, as in polite, respectful, calm. That is, it is angry, it perhaps heaps scorn on some other party, it condemns the actions and motives of an opponent, and it seeks to rile up its intended audience.

There are times, I would agree, when violent rhetoric can be akin to the proverbial shout of “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and such speech–the kind of speech that used to be used to rouse a crowd to become a lynch mob–should rightly be viewed as a criminal act. But riling up a crowd to kill somebody is different from riling up a crowd to, say, damage construction equipment that is about to destroy a poor neighborhood to make way for a casino development, riling up a crowd of workers to break into a plant and engage in a sit-down strike to prevent the shipping of the machinery overseas, or riling up a crowd to resist a forcible eviction in a foreclosure.

There is a big difference between shouting “Kill the Nigger!” as listeners did during some Sarah Palin campaign events in 2008, while she said nothing to dissuade the racist crowd, on the one hand, and, on the other, declaring as I and others have done that those who would cut Medicare and Medicaid funding are condemning thousands of people to death, or writing, as I have also done, that President Obama, like President Bush before him, is a war criminal for ordering the indiscriminate use of drone missile attacks on Afghan and Pakistani housing compounds known to be filled with families, or for refusing to punish those who ordered torture, and that the punishment for such crimes can include execution.

In the first instance, a public figure, Sarah Palin, is through her silence, encouraging actual calls for the assassination of a presidential candidate. In the latter instance, facts are simply being stated. No one is being targeted for violent action.

To say that we should have civility in our discourse is a code word in the media and in political debate, for saying that we should not be exposing our leaders as criminals, or calling for their removal from office. Civility is really the death of politics, which thrives on passion and withers with civility.

A war now going into its 10th year does not need civility from a populace that polls show is 63 percent in favor of its termination. An unpopular, illegal and pointless war calls for radical rhetoric and radical action–street protests, blockades of troop transports, destruction of military equipment, disruption of staged patriotic events to support the war–whatever it takes to bring the war to an end. And it calls for language that will encourage such actions.

An attack on Social Security and Medicare, the two key remaining supports of the poor and the elderly in our increasingly Dickensian society, does not call for civil discourse. It calls for rousing speeches that will incite massive marches on Washington, the disruption of the political events featuring those who will not defend those programs, and that call for the removal from office of those who would deliberately turn the nation’s elderly and disabled out on the streets. Those who would cut Social Security and Medicare should be called out for what they are: killers of the disabled and the elderly.

As for this liberal tripe that violent, uncivil rhetoric and action is coming from the left and the right, this is complete nonsense, and when such assertions come from liberal pundits and politicians, it is simply journalistic or political cowardice. Leftists have not called for people to get out their guns. They have not been calling for the execution of candidates. They have not even been calling their political opponents traitors. (Well, okay, I for one have said that the American heads of multinational corporations who lobby Washington on behalf of policies that are gutting the US economy to profit the global operations of their enterprises are “traitors” to the US, but that’s simply stating the truth: they are Americans who are deliberately, if furtively, damaging the national security of their own nation, on behalf of corporate entities that are only, at best, nominally American.) If anything, political rhetoric on the left is far too civil and bloodless.

It needs to be amped up, no down.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-supported online alternative newspaper

 

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail